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Anchorage Public Library will no longer charge fines for overdue materials

was written by Mayowa Aina, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage , 2020-01-08 21:22:16

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Information about local housing, employment, food and health resources on display at Anchorage’s Loussac Library on April 9, 2019. (Photo by Kirsten Swann/Alaska Public Media)

Starting this month, borrowers who use the Anchorage Public Library will no longer be charged late or overdue fines for library items.

Anchorage Public Library Director Mary Jo Torgeson said the policy change is aimed at making the library more accessible to the people who need its services the most.

“The issue is: we want kids to be using libraries, and we want families to using libraries,” she said.

At 50 cents per day, staff found that the Anchorage Public Library’s late and overdue fines are high compared to other libraries. Torgeson said that patrons expressed over and over that high fees were stopping them from using the library. For example, if someone checked out five books but couldn’t return them all on time, they would incur $25 in fines over 10 days. At that point, their library card would be blocked and they would not be able to use many library services.

This can become a barrier for patrons, especially families and children, Torgeson said.

“Money’s tight for families,” she said.

The new policy is in line with a national movement. Library systems in Seattle, Chicago, San Diego and other major cities have also done away with fines in recent years. Last year, the American Library Association called monetary fines “a form of social inequity,” and encouraged libraries to find a way to eliminate them.

In Anchorage, staff found that fines were largely evenly spread across demographics. But, the library reports that there are currently almost 70,000 lost items and nearly 12,000 blocked library cards.

Torgeson said the library has considered changing the policy for a while. Trying to account for the governor’s budget priorities or the health Alaska’s economy caused some initial hesitation. “But, at some point, there’s never a right time. You just jump in,” she explained.

While fines from overdue items are a revenue source, the library found that it cost more time and effort to collect the fines than the fines were ultimately worth. Additionally, Torgeson said, fine collection led to a negative experience for both patrons and staff.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz supported the change and agreed that going fine free makes the library more accessible.

Related: At Anchorage library, pilot program connects patrons to social services

“It makes Anchorage a more welcoming community,” he said. “It is a more intelligent use of the scarce resources that we have so that we can deploy library resources in ways that provide better service.”

There will still be a fee for lost or damaged items and cards will be blocked once an account accrues $25 in those fees. But Torgeson hopes the policy change will help the library system be a better steward of public goods.

“We’re not a business, we’re a government service, and that’s what we should be focusing on,” she said. “Particularly in Alaska, the reading scores are bad. Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can as a community to bring children into the library?”

Other library systems have taken various approaches to getting rid of the fines, including simply wiping them out all together. For the Anchorage system, patrons must contact the library directly, either in-person, over the phone, or online and they will waive any outstanding overdue fines.

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Tongass National Forest. The Tongass is the biggest national forest in the United States. It obtained its name from the Tongass Clan of the Tlingit native people and goes back to 1902 when President Theodore Roosevelt established the Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve. In 1908 the forest was re-named and expanded and today the 16.9 million-acre Tongass National Forest runs from the Pacific ocean to the large inland ice fields that border British Columbia and from the southern tip of Prince of Wales Island to Malaspina Glacier five hundred miles to the north. Approximately 80 percent of Southeast Alaska is in Tongass and with it’s thousands of islands, fjords and bays the national forest offers 11,000 miles of coastline. Tongass’ large coastal rain forest consists of towering hemlock, spruce and red and yellow cedar. The undergrowth beneath thebig conifers is made up of young evergreens and shrubs including devil’s club, blueberry and huckleberry. Moss and ferns cover the ground, and lichens adorn numerous trees and rocks.

Wildlife is plentiful throughout Tongass. Sitka blacktail deer and its 2 key predators, wolf and brown bear, are observed here. Black bear are common as well as mountain goats and some moose. Marine mammals seen along the shores consist of Dall and harbor porpoises, seals and humpback, minke and orca whales and an evergrowing population of sea otters. The marine environments teem with fish including halibut and all 5 species of Pacific salmon. More bald eagles stay in this area than in any other area in the world. Though home to the world’s main temperate rain forest, nearly fifty percent of Tongass is covered by ice, water, wetlands and rock. It’s most legendary ice floe is the Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska’s “Drive-in glacier” because it is merely thirteen miles from downtown Juneau along a paved road. A boat trip from Petersburg or Wrangell can bring everyone near the face of LeConte Glacier, the southernmost tidewater glacier on the continent. Merely thirty miles north of Yakutat is Hubbard Glacier, the longest tidewater glacier in the world and very easily Alaska’s most energetic. The 76-mile-long glacier has crossed Russell Fjord several times, most recently in 2008. The rip tides and currents that flow in front of the 8-mile-wide glacier are so strong they induce Hubbard to calve almost constantly. The Tongass contains nineteen wilderness areas, including the 545-sq-mile Russell Fjord Wilderness, in addition to Admiralty Island National Monument and Misty Fiords National Monument. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and the general area around Haines and Skagway aren’t part of the national forest.

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